John Yanga harvests fingerling potatoes last week at Fresh Start Farms in Falmouth. He says that the potatoes are small because of the drought and it is too expensive to irrigate his fields. Yanga sells his vegetables at the Portland Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Mainers won’t have to worry about canceling golf outings or boating excursions, but farmers without irrigation should be concerned about the health of their crops with drought conditions covering much of the state.

Much of Maine is experiencing moderate drought, with most of Aroostock and parts of Piscataquis counties in severe conditions – and there’s no hope for rain anytime soon.

“The best we can hope for right now is a wetter fall, I guess,” said Mike Cempa, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray.

“We’re not looking for anything too much in the way of significant rainfall through the weekend anyway, and even then probably the next chance will be more a showers-and-thunderstorms kind of thing coming through Monday night into Tuesday. But that could be a hit-or-miss, like we usually get with thunderstorms. There is nothing in the way of a steady kind of rain anytime soon. There is no sign of it.”

Across Maine, parts of a few counties are merely abnormally dry, including portions of Cumberland, York, Somerset, Franklin, Kennebec and Oxford counties, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, updated Thursday. And  parts of Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties are experiencing no drought at all. The U.S. Drought Monitor provides broad-scale drought data on a county-by-county level.

According to the National Weather Service, Portland is 4.25 inches below normal for precipitation for the year, with 23.81 inches since Jan. 1; normal precipitation is 28.06 at this time. Since June 1, Portland has received 5.95 inches, compared to 8.86 inches normally, or 2.91 inches less than normal.

Of the four NWS climate sites in Maine, Caribou in Aroostook County has the largest precipitation deficit from normal since June, Cempa said. Caribou is down 5.08 inches since June 1, having received 4.25 inches. It normally receives 9.33 inches. For the year, Caribou is off 4.79 inches, so its precipitation deficit has happened since June. For the year. Caribou has received 17.96 inches of precipitation, down from the normal year-to-date total of 22.75.

That deficit bodes ill for potato farmers, who depend on moisture to bulk up their potatoes, said Dave Colson, an agricultural specialist with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Without irrigation, their yields might be down.

“The key right now is to get enough water on the potatoes to bulk them up,” Colson said. “Contract growers are looking for a certain size. If they do not get that bulking, it will be hard to make that contract.”

Growers of fruits or vegetables “are probably really beginning to feel it now” if they do not have a water source for their crops, he said, and people who grow winter squash, a popular fall vegetable, might notice diseases starting to move in. The key, Colson said, is irrigation.

“A lot of folks have done a lot of work these last 10 years to put in irrigation,” he said. “It used to be the occasional farm in Maine that had irrigation, but since these weather patterns have gotten more extreme, more and more folks have dug ponds or put in wells or have other water sources.”


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